In the midst of Yemen’s sectarian borderline civil war, jihadis from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) stormed a jail and freed over three hundred prisoners.
A senior Defense Ministry official told CNN that he believes around one-third are members of the Al Qaeda branch, which analysts believe is the most deadly and sophisticated of the jihadi group’s affiliates.
The Sunni terror group freed Khalid Batarfi, who has been described as a senior member of the Al Qaeda group. He has been recognized for his role in successfully commanding Al Qaeda forces against the Yemeni military in 2011 and 2012 battles, which resulted in the group’s seizure of land in much of Yemen’s south and east.
The militants met little resistance but for a small battle that saw two prison guards and five inmates killed in the fight over possession of the prison, according to reports. The militants also seized a local radio station without resistance, officials stated.
“Al Qaeda needs to recruit and [there’s] no better way to recruit from prison,” said Yemeni Defense Ministry official Abdullah al Sharafi. “A few of the escapees were senior al Qaeda leaders, but among those who escaped were dozens of al Qaeda fighters and loyalists.”
The prison is located in the coastal city of Al Makallah, which borders the Gulf of Aden. It is the fifth largest city in Yemen, sporting a population of around 300,000.
Until the 2 a.m. Thursday morning raid on Al Makallah, the city was largely controlled by Sunni forces and local tribes.
As the internationally-recognized Yemeni government has shifted its focus towards fighting the Houthi coup in Sanaa, analysts have warned that AQAP has sought to take advantage of the situation and continue to usurp power and territory.
“The military is divided and fighting one another instead of fighting al Qaeda,” Sharafi told the Wall Street Journal.
The United States until recently had an active drone campaign in Yemen which primarily sought to take out AQAP fighters. However, last month, American forces completely withdrew from the country as a result of the sectarian escalations.